Why Not Wine

February 2, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Convention and Arena Authority could make its first toast to holding its inaugural fundraiser in a few weeks, as members are slated to choose a producer for a wine-tasting event.

But not just a wine-tasting event. More like a full-blown trade show that would be held in DeVos Place and would feature exhibits of wine, beer and food from Michigan producers, along with dining areas and seminars and demonstrations by area chefs.

The event would be based on one that is held in Canada's capital city. The Ottawa Wine and Food Show takes place for three days each year in the Ottawa Congress Centre. The last show had 200 exhibitors, many from foreign lands, and drew 25,000 wine enthusiasts and party goers through the doors.

Show tickets sold for $15 and each sampling ticket cost 50 cents. Booths sold for $1,450. Awards were handed out for the best wines. Chefs gave demonstrations in areas that seated 100. Restaurants had dining areas with 40 seats and accepted reservations. Specialty retail shops set up booths. And many of the exhibited wines were sold at the show.

The marketing budget last year for the Ottawa show was $60,000 and revenue from the event was $200,000, a figure that was reached with few sponsorships.

"I felt there was an opportunity here for sponsorships," said Rich MacKeigan, CAA executive director and SMG general manager.

MacKeigan and six others attended the Ottawa show last November and came away impressed with what they saw.

"The lines were pretty extensive there," said Joseph Tomaselli, CAA vice chairman and president of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. "The way they do this is quite a commercial success."

Rick Winn and Gerhard Schmied of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel joined Tomaselli and MacKeigan on the Ottawa trip, as did Henri Boucher of Showspan Inc., Keith Klopcic of West Side Beer Distributing, and Tim Keberlein of Fox Distributing.

"I think it has great potential and the market is ready for this," said Tomaselli.

Although Ottawa is three times the size of Grand Rapids, its metro market is similar at 1.1 million. But the city has over 20,000 hotel rooms within a Canadian's definition of "walking distance" from the show. And being the nation's capital, Ottawa officials have ties to foreign embassies, which helped draw European wines and wine sellers to the show.

"The economy is pretty good there, too," said MacKeigan of Ottawa, which has a solid high-tech industry.

The idea is to contact foreign consulates in Detroit and Chicago to learn if there would be any interest from overseas wineries in being at the event. But MacKeigan said the spotlight would fall on Michigan producers, restaurants and affiliated businesses and groups like the area's wine-tasting guilds and beverage distributors. He said the downtown restaurant and bar owners he spoke with thought the show was a good idea.

The CAA has been looking for a signature event for nearly two years that would raise awareness of DeVos Place and revenue for the board that would go to capital improvement projects. Board member Gary McInerney suggested the event and developed the concept with MacKeigan and CAA Chairman Steven Heacock.

When the CAA meets on Feb. 28, members are likely to select Showspan Inc. to produce the event. Showspan, headed by John Loeks Jr., produces most of the consumer shows held in the convention center, including last week's auto show.

MacKeigan said the show would run for three days and occupy about 100,000 square feet of DeVos Place exhibit space. He also said he would be meeting with potential industry and media partners and would be looking for someone qualified to manage the show. The first one is targeted for 2008, but only when DeVos Place isn't busy.

"It only makes sense if we're using a quiet time at the venue," he said.    

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